Standard bearers

All nursery schools must now prepare for annual Care Commission inspections. Drew McCanney outlines what this means

pril heralded a major change to the regulation of early years care and education in Scotland. On April 1, local authority, private and voluntary sector nursery schools and classes became subject to Care Commission inspection.

These services were already required to meet the standards and performance indicators outlined in the Scottish Executive's self-evaluation guide Child at the Centre. They also had to satisfy Learning and Teaching Scotland's Curriculum Framework for Children 3 to 5.

But under the change, early years provision must also meet the requirements outlined in National Care Standards: Early Education and Childcare up to the age of 16.

The Care Commission hopes to change the culture of regulation by focusing inspections on outcomes. So the new standards are written from the users'

point of view - children, young people and parents - and informs them what they should expect from the care and education services. While local authorities are used to this focus, it is a major change for private and voluntary providers.

Six principles underpin the new standards: dignity, privacy, choice, safety, realising potential and equality and diversity. These reflect the recognised rights that children, young people and parents enjoy as citizens.

In line with this, the Scottish Executive document covers issues such as welcoming and caring for children, as well as confidence in the service and its management. They cover staff-to-child ratios, space requirements and staff qualifications, useful reference material and information on childcare qualifications.

Existing service providers will be inspected each year and new services will have to demonstrate how they will achieve the standards when registering.

Addressing how to promote these principles in practice and build them into policies and procedures should ensure nursery schools and classes meet the standards. Reviewing policies and procedures should also identify any gaps in practice, such as the absence of a whistle-blowing policy, which are identified as necessary. This may be new to most care and education providers, and local authorities are likely to want to produce an authority-wide policy which should then be specific to the individual nursery school or class.

Self-evaluation is now a requirement for all care and education services, not just nursery schools and classes as before. It will also be necessary to identify the links between the national care standards and the quality indicators from the Child at the Centre so the care standards can be incorporated into existing self-evaluation systems and development planning.

The private and voluntary sector have been used to working with tighter staff-to-child ratios but the staffing requirements of the new standards will bring adjustments for nursery schools and classes to meet the required ratio of 1:8 for children aged three years and above.

Where children attend for a session lasting less than four hours in any day, a ratio of 1:10 can apply, providing individual children do not attend more than one session a day. Two adults must be present at any one time, and only adults in contact with children for the majority of the session will count towards the ratios. Full-day care provision may be affected by these new ratios and the attendance of children for two sessions in one day will require careful planning.

The Care Commission can vary ratios up or down, for example, where there are "awkward premises" or "additional support staff on the premises". Nursery schools and classes may frequently claim the presence of additional support staff, but there could be some lengthy debate on what constitutes "awkward premises".

The Scottish Executive has declared its intention to move to a position where all staff in pre-school childcare and education centres are either qualified or in training.

However, the standards state that the commission will be expected to require the manager to be qualified in childcare, teaching or social work with a minimum of half the staff qualified in childcare. Controversially, "qualified in childcare" for staff begins with SVQ Level 2.

To meet the standards, nurseries may need to train staff to promote positive behaviour, for instance, and to challenge and respond to bullying, harassment and discrimination.

Other specific areas where skills may need to be enhanced could include an awareness of their responsibility in child protection, handling complaints and involving children in their care and education. Child (and parent) participation is at the centre of a number of the standards.

Nursery schools and classes will need to adjust to a new form of regulation and regulator as the Care Commission does not have its roots in education and its staff may not have an education background. The commission has a statutory duty to inspect against the national care standards each year.

The commission will also undertake integrated inspections of nursery schools and classes with HM Inspectorate of Education. Exactly how this will be done is not yet known. For example, will the commission inspect only against the standards or will it consider curriculum issues as well? If care and education are intrinsically linked, can you separate out care and education in the Care Commission and HMIE inspections?

Also, given that nursery schools and classes are not accustomed to annual inspections, how will they affect their development plans?

I understand that the Care Commission and HMIE are currently working out the processes for integrated inspections and that piloting will take place later this year.

National Care Standards: Early Education and Childcare up to the age of 16 is a relatively small Executive document, but it could have a big impact on the care and education of young children for some time to come.

National Care Standards: Early Education and Childcare up to the age of 16, Scottish Executive, March 2002Drew McCanney is an early years trainer and consultant and a former senior inspection and registration officer (early years). He is giving exhibition seminars on Implementing the National Care Standards at 1.30pm on September 13 and Self-evaluation: a beginner's guide at 10.30am on September 14 Class issue: Alana Ross, at Ruchazie Primary, Glasgow, says schools alone cannot combat deprivation Class partners: assistant Megan Macpherson with Alex Hemphill, aged six, in Yvonne Creaney's class at Killermont Primary, Bearsden

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